"Can I have a puppy mum? Can I? Can I?" If you're considering getting a dog for your family, already have a dog as well as a family, or are seeking to teach your children about the responsibilities of pet ownership, you are probably keen to get your child involved in helping with the day to day care of your dog.But at what age exactly should your kids start to help with looking after your dog, and what kinds of tasks can you safely and reliably entrust them to undertake? Read on to find out more!
Understandably, the youngest tots are not going to be able to help you to look after your dog, and you should always supervise your dog and your baby carefully when they are together. But it's never too early to start getting your child used to your dog, comfortable in their presence, and to help your child to develop what will generally go on to be a lifelong love of animals from exposure to friendly pets from an early age.
The 'terrible twos' can be a trying time for both yourself and your pet, and it's not at all uncommon for children to act out around pets, harass your dog or handle them inappropriately with no ill intent. It's vital at this age to teach your child to respect your dog's space, and learn what is and is not allowed when dealing with your dog- both for the dog's sake and potentially for your child's. At this age you should start teaching your child about how to pat your dog, not to poke at their face and eyes or pull their tail, and what your dog's name is.
At the age of four, your child should be well versed in how to safely pet your dog, plus you might want to look at teaching your child to brush a willing dog for a few minutes at a time under supervision.
At the age of five, begin encouraging your child to help to walk your dog by holding onto the lead along with you. It's too early to let your child hold the lead on their own at this point though! Also you can teach your child about how to give treats to your dog safely using an open palm.
At the age of six, your child will begin to develop an awareness of your dog's training, and should be able to get your dog to respond by calling him by name. It's important to work closely with your six year old when teaching them about commands, to avoid confusing or frustrating your dog! You can also introduce your child to supervised play with your dog, such as playing fetch.
Children aged seven and eight years old may be ready to hold your dog's lead on their own while supervised, if you have a particularly small dog or a very well trained larger dog. A parent should always be on standby to step in though, and your child should only practice 'walking' your dog on the lead in a safe enclosed space! Seven and eight year olds may also be able to play 'fetch' with your dog on their own, and encourage the dog to retrieve.You can also begin to teach your child about basic training commands, such as 'sit' and 'stay-' and how not to overuse them!
At the ages of nine and ten, your children are ready for a little more responsibility! Teach them about feeding and watering your dog, such as what he eats, when he is fed and how much he is fed, and encourage your child to get into a routine of helping with feeding and watering. Your nine or ten year old should also be ready to help with washing up the dog's bowls and keeping his eating area tidy, as well as being confident and comfortable issuing basic commands to your dog, and eliciting the required response!
At the age of eleven, your child should be able to be entrusted with the daily feeding of your dog with minimal supervision, although it's important to monitor what they are doing from a distance! It's a good age to start introducing your child to giving treats to your dog unsupervised, including teaching them how much is too much and when and how to reward good behaviour.
Twelve year olds will have begun learning about biology and science in school, and it's a great age to start teaching your child about your dog's health, signs of wellness and what to look out for in the case of any problems. If you haven't done so already, take your tweenager along to the vets when the time for vaccination comes around- any child with an interest in dogs or animals will find this fascinating!
When your child hits their teens, they will have developed the skills and understanding of your dog to be able to become a real help to you in his care, although it's vitally important that you continue to monitor proceedings from a distance and step in if your teenager loses interest in caring for your pet or begins to cut corners. Incorporating some aspects of your dog's care into your teenager's chores or to earn their pocket money is a win-win situation for both the parent and the child! Vacuuming up pet hair, grooming your dog and washing up bowls and brushes are all reasonable tasks that your teenager should be able to perform without supervision. You might also wish to start introducing your teenager to other aspects of pet care such as brushing the teeth and worming and flea treatment under supervision.
Your fifteen year old teenager is able (although whether or not they are willing is another story!) to begin walking your dog unsupervised, and also importantly, picking up after them and knowing how and where to safely dispose of dog mess, and wash their hands. Your fifteen year old should be more than capable by this stage of taking care of all of your dog's day to day needs on their own, although it remains important to monitor them and make sure that their outside lives are not getting in the way, and that they are not skimping on any agreed duties.
One thing that is vitally important to remember when dealing with interaction between your dog and your child of any age is not to push them or force them into anything. If your child is not ready to undertake a particular duty, there is nothing to be gained from pushing them outside of their comfort zone.Remember that as the adult and the person who made the initial commitment to care for your dog for the duration of his life, the ultimate responsibility for his care falls to you. You should supervise your developing child's interaction with and responsibility for your dog until they are of an age to be both willing and able to take care of their own pet totally solo- and be ready to step in if needed to make sure that all of your dog's needs are taken care of.Congratulations! You've raised a future responsible pet owner and lifelong animal lover.